When I was a camp counselor, various stories were told at the end of meal time. These stories were meant to stimulate conversations for later, when kids and their counselor returned to their cabins for the night.
The following story hit me hard, so I’ve never forgotten it.
“There once was a girl with a very bad temper.
The girl’s father wanted to teach her a lesson, so he gave her
a bag of nails and told her that every time she lost her temper
she must hammer a nail into their wooden fence.
On the first day the girl had driven 25 nails into the fence. “This is kind of fun”, she told her father. “But by the time I’m done hammering, I can’t remember why I was so mad!”
Over the next few weeks, as she began to control her temper,the number of nails she hammered into the fence gradually dwindled.
Finally, the day came when the girl didn’t lose her temper at all. She became so proud of herself and she couldn’t wait to tell her father.
Pleased, her father suggested that she now pull out one nail for each day that she could hold her temper.
The days passed and the girl was finally able to go back to her father and tell him that she had pulled out all the nails.
Very gently, the father took his daughter by the hand and led her to the fence.
“You have done well, my daughter”, he smiled. “But look at the all the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same.”
The little girl listened carefully as her father continued to speak.
“When you say things in anger, you leave a scar, just like these that have been left by the nails. Even if you say you are sorry, the wound will still be there.” ~anonymous
Later, I came to realize why it had special meaning for me. Unlike the girl in the story, my anger was used as a defense-mechanism – to protect me from my critical family. I learned, unconsciously, that anger made me feel stronger – People backed off! It became so automatic that I didn’t even notice the damage I was causing.
But like so many of our childhood coping skills, I couldn’t even turn it off in circumstances that didn’t involve my family.
So when I heard this fable, I woke up. I had to become aware of anger’s purpose for me. I learned that my defenses were not who I was – they are coping skills. I had to decide that I didn’t want to be that way anymore – after all, I was no longer a child – and I learned, instead, to cope with the underlying feelings. I taught myself that being sad, confused or scared, were “okay”.
If anger is expressed without awareness, it will damage all of your relationships. Take the time to learn to communicate effectively; journal to learn to understand your feelings; get a book about Assertive Communication.